Zimbabwe Asians are next to face race threats

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The Independent Online

Racial intimidation in Zimbabwe is spreading beyond white-owned farms to the country's Asian business community. As occupations continued at the weekend of about 500 white-owned commercial farms amid reports of new sit-ins, a pamphlet was circulating in the country's second city, Bulawayo, proclaiming "the Indians will be next".

Mohammed Esat, who owns three clothing stores in Bulawayo, said it was not clear who had produced the pamphlet.

He said: "It was distributed on Friday to businesses in Lobengula Street, one of the three city-centre streets where Asian businesses are concentrated. We are not sure of its source. I suspect it is being put out by ambitious people who may have grievances and are taking advantage of the climate of confusion.''

The 20,000 people of Asian extraction in Zimbabwe represent the second-largest non-black ethnic group in the country. But in many towns they are more visible than the 80,000 whites because they run shops and factories, as opposed to farms.

In the capital, Harare, an Indian-born businessman, Anis Girach, said rumours began on Saturday that Asian businesses were about to be the subject of attacks. He said: "We areperceived as rich and wellestablished, so we are a visible target. People are getting quite worried and lots are leaving for Australia.''

Zimbabweans of all races consider the country to be have become well integrated in the 20 years since the end of white rule. But yesterday Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement For Democratic Change (MDC), claimed at a rally at Norton, near Harare, that the country's President, Robert Mugabe, and the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) were trying to divide the people. The Zanu-PF is accused of orchestrating sit-ins at about 1,000 farms since February. Mr Tsvangirai told the all-black crowd of about 2,000 people: "Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF do not want to see unity. For the first time across race and across ethnicity, we are all united for one purpose - to create a new Zimbabwe.

"We want a Zimbabwe that is not based on race, ethnicity and language differences, because we realise this is divisive. Whites are our cousins.''

The 48-year-old former trade union leader said the ongoing farm occupations were being used by President Mugabe as a threat against Britain "where he has lots of bank accounts which he is afraid will be frozen". Many believe the British authorities have tried to trace Mr Mugabe's British assets but have failed to determine what, if any, they might be.

The MDC, which is strongly supported by Zimbabwe's 4,500 commercial farmers, is challenging Zanu-PF in delayed parliamentary elections whose date has yet to be set by Mr Mugabe. When he met the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, in Cairo last week, the President promised they would be held on 25 or 26 May but at a rally he said they would take place only after constituency boundaries had been revised.

The MDC has strong support in Zimbabwe's cities but about 70 per cent of the country's population is rural, made up of subsistence farmers who were removed by white settlers to poor land they do not own. In the past 20 years, they have proved to be receptive to Zanu-PF's claim to be uniquely able to redress land injustices.

Farmers with British passports are being persecuted in Zimbabwe in a programme of intimidation resembling "ethnic cleansing", the shadow Foreign Secretary, Francis Maude, said yesterday. Tough action should be taken, including suspension from the Commonwealth and a halt to aid, he said.